How Phytates Fight Cancer Cells

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Phytate is a compound found in beans, grains, nuts and seeds. The average daily intake of phytate in vegetarian diets is about twice that of those eating mixed diets of plant and animal foods, which may help explain their low cancer rates. Aside from helping to prevent cancer, dietary phytate has been reported to help prevent kidney stone formation, protect against diabetes mellitus, dental cavities, and heart disease.

Do all these potentially beneficial effects sound too good to be true? Are there other examples of compounds made by plants that can have benefits across multiple diseases? Why yes! Aspirin, for example, which is found throughout the plant kingdom may also account for a variety of plant-based benefits (See Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods).

But of all the things phytates can do, the anticancer activity of phytate (also known as phytic acid, IP6, or inositol hexaphosphate), is considered one of its most important beneficial activities. Dietary phytates are quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly taken up by cancer cells throughout the body, and have been shown to inhibit the growth of all tested cancerous cell lines in vitro. Phytates have been shown to inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells, colon cancer cells, both estrogen receptor-positive and negative breast cancer cells, voicebox cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver tumors, pancreatic, melanoma, and muscle cancers. All at the same time not affecting normal cells. That's the most important expectation of a good anticancer agent: the ability to only affect cancerous cells and to leave normal cells alone.

In my video, Phytates for Rehabilitating Cancer Cells, you can see how leukemia cells taken from cancer patients are killed by phytates, whereas normal bone marrow cells, are spared. This may explain why bean extracts kill off colon cancer cells in vitro, but leave normal colon cells alone.

What are the mechanisms of action by which phytates battle cancer? In other words, how do phytates fight? How don't they fight? Phytate targets cancer through multiple pathways, a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing activities, detox, differentiation, and anti-angiogenesis. In other words, phytate appears to affect all the principal pathways of malignancy.

The antioxidative property is one of the most impressive characteristics of phytate. In fact that's why the meat industry adds phytates to meat to prevent the fat oxidation that begins at the moment of slaughter. Phytates can also act on our immune functions by augmenting natural killer cell activity, the cells in our body that hunt down and dispose of cancer cells, as well as neutrophils, which help form our first line of defense. And then phytates starve tumors as more of a last line of defense. Not only can phytates block the formation of new blood vessels that may be feeding tumors, but disrupt pre-formed capillary tubes, indicating that phytates may not just help blockade tumors, but actively cut off existing supply lines.

What's really remarkable about phytate, though, is that unlike most other anti-cancer agents, it not only causes a reduction in cancer cell growth but also enhances differentiation, meaning it causes cancer cells to stop acting like cancer cells and go back to acting like normal cells. You can see this with colon cancer cells for example. In the presence of phytates, human colon cancer cells mature to structurally and behaviorally resemble normal cells. And this has been demonstrated in leukemia cells, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and muscle cancer cells as well.

For more on the cancer and phytate connection, check out Phytates for the Prevention of Cancer and Phytates for the Treatment of Cancer.

This video reminds me of my video on the spice, turmeric, Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

What else can we eat to improve the cancer-fighting front of our immune system? See Boosting Natural Killer Cell Activity.

More on the concept of starving tumors of their blood supply in Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines.

Is there clinical evidence of plants actually reversing cancer progression? You won't believe your eyes:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Why are Cancer Rates so Low in India?

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It is estimated that many tumors start around the age of 20. However, detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later. Thus, it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target. Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of these monotargeted therapies has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a multitargeted approach.

Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and are inexpensive and safe compared to drugs. However, because drug companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to plants, the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized. They may work (and work better for all we know), and they may be safer, or even fully risk free.

If we were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, we might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric (the reason curry powder looks yellow). Before we start throwing money at research, we might want to ask some basic questions, like "Do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates?" The incidence of cancer does appear to be significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed. Population-based data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet.

For example, "overall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries." U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to 12 times more kidney cancer. This is not mere 5, 10, or 20 percent more, but 5, 10, or 20 times more. Hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer--differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

The researchers in this study, highlighted in my video Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer, conclude: "Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world's population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiological studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer. The lower rates of cancer may, of course, not be due to higher spice intake. Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a "relatively low intake of meat and a mostly plant-based diet, in addition to the high intake of spices." Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don't eat a lot. And it's not only what they don't eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and Indians eat a lot of pulses (legumes), such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils. They also eat a wide variety of spices in addition to turmeric that constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can't prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but they can certainly inspire a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer, for both prevention and treatment. For more information on turmeric and curcumin, check out Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin and Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

I'm working on another dozen or so videos on this amazing spice. This is what I have so far:

Amla, dried Indian gooseberry powder, is another promising dietary addition:

I add amla to my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe. Not all natural products from India are safe, though. See, for example, my video Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure.

More on the antioxidant concentration in spices in general in Antioxidants in a Pinch. Why do antioxidants matter? See Food Antioxidants and Cancer and Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

Which fruits and vegetables might be best? See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies

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In my video Preventing Childhood Allergies, I noted a study in Japan that found higher maternal intake of meat during pregnancy was significantly associated with about three times the odds of both suspected and physician-diagnosed eczema. The researchers suggest that certain components of meat may affect the fetal immune system. But what about the moms, themselves? A plant-based diet may also help alleviate allergies in adults. See Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants and Preventing Allergies in Adulthood.

Seasonal allergies have exploded in Japan in the past few decades, starting with the first reported case in 1964 and now affecting millions every year. We've seen a rising prevalence of allergic diseases around the industrialized world in past decades, but perhaps nothing quite this dramatic.

Some have suggested that profound changes in the Japanese diet may have played a role. Over the latter half of the century total meat, fish, and milk intake rose hundreds of percent in Japan, so researchers decided to look into dietary meat and fat intake and the prevalence of these seasonal pollen allergies. No association with overall fat, but "higher meat intake was significantly associated with an increased prevalence."

Saturated fat wasn't associated with increased prevalence either, so what other constituents in meat may be to blame? The researchers considered the cooked meat carcinogens, the heterocyclic amines, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and the nitrosamines.

A new review, highlighted in my video, Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, however, raised an intriguing possibility. There's a class of industrial pollutants called alkylphenols, recognized as common toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals that tend to accumulate in the human body and may be associated with allergic diseases. A variety of studies have shown how they may exacerbate allergen-induced inflammation, "suggesting that alkylphenol exposure may influence the onset, progression, and severity of allergic diseases." These toxic xenoestrogens can be found in human breast milk, in our body fat, in our urine, in our bloodstream, and even in the umbilical cord blood going to our babies. How did it get there? Through contaminated food.

It all goes back to a famous study about the reduction of penis size and testosterone levels in alligators living in a contaminated environment. I don't know what you do for a day job, but these researchers observed that a population of juvenile alligators living on one lake in Florida exhibited a "significantly smaller penis size" and lower blood concentrations of testosterone compared to animals on some different lake. The most important difference between the two lakes was that Lake Stubby was fed by relatively polluted waters. They attributed the "short penis phenomenon" to estrogen-mimicking (xenoestrogenic) environmental metabolites of DDT that still pollute our Earth. This seminal work introduced the concept of endocrine disruptors. Environmental xenoestrogens might result in feminization of exposed male animals. And that's just the shriveled tip of the iceberg.

Since then, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been implicated in the dramatic rise over the last 50 years of diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, obesity, and fertility (such as dropping normal sperm counts), genital birth defects such as penile malformations, preterm birth, neurobehavioral disorders in children linked to thyroid disruption, and earlier breast development in young girls. Because genes do not change fast enough to explain these increases, environmental causes must be involved. Since our greatest exposure to the environment is through our gut, it's no surprise that our greatest exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals is through diet.

To find out which foods may contain these alkylphenol endocrine disruptors, check out my video Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors.

More on endocrine disruptors in:

A different class of chemicals has been found to be associated with smaller penis size in humans. See Chicken Consumption and the Feminization of Male Genitalia.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videoshere and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Organic Milk and Prostate Cancer

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Researchers have expressed concern that since cow's milk contains estrogens, dairy could stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors. The thought is that the consumption of dairy products could both "promote the conversion of precancerous lesions or mutated cells to invasive cancer and enhance the progression of hormone-dependent tumors."

This was initially postulated based on suggestive population-scale data like a 25 fold increase in prostate cancer in Japan since World War II. What was happening to their diets during that period? A 5, 10, and 20 fold increase in eggs, meat, and dairy consumption, respectively, whereas the rest of their diet remained pretty stable.

But diet wasn't the only major change in Japanese lifestyles over the latter half century. Similarly, even though countries with higher milk consumption tend to have more prostate cancer deaths and countries with lower milk consumption fewer deaths, there could be hundreds of confounding variables. But it certainly does spur interest in studying the possibility.

A recent study from Clemson University represents the other extreme, controlling for as many factors as possible by isolating prostate cancer cells out of the body in a petri dish and dripping cow milk on them directly. The researchers chose organic cow's milk, because they wanted to exclude the effect of added hormones so that they could test the effect of all the growth hormones and sex steroids found naturally in milk.

They found that cow's milk stimulated the growth of human prostate cancer cells in each of 14 separate experiments, producing an average increase in cancer growth rate of over 30%. In contrast, almond milk suppressed the growth of these cancer cells by over 30%.

But just because something happens in a petri dish or a test tube doesn't mean the same thing happens in a person. It's just suggestive evidence that we can use in a grant application to get money to study actual people. This can be done with a retrospective (looking backward) study where we take prostate cancer patients and figure out what they ate in the past, or a prospective (looking forward) study where we look at people's diets first and follow them for a few years and see who gets cancer. The looking back kind are typically referred to as case-control studies, because researchers look at cases of cancer and compare their diets to controls. The looking forward kind are often called cohort studies because a cohort of people is followed forward. Then, if we want to get fancy, we can do a so-called meta-analysis, where you combine all the best studies done to date and see what the balance of available evidence shows.

The latest meta-analysis of all the best case control studies ever done on the matter concludes that milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer. And the latest meta-analysis of all the best cohort studies ever done also concludes that milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer. An even newer study profiled in my video, Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk, suggests that milk intake during adolescence may be particularly risky in terms of potentially setting one up for cancer later in life.

Despite hormone-related cancers being among our top killers, as pointed out in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, "we simply do not know which hormones, and how much, are in the food that we ingest. More effort has been directed at the investigation of illicit use of designer steroids by Olympians and ballplayers than to the investigation of the effect of dietary hormones on cancer and other diseases that affect millions." A proposal is therefore made to monitor levels of steroid and other hormones and growth factors in all dairy and meat-containing foods, though to date this has not been done.

I touched previously on the prostate cancer data in one of my oldest videos, Slowing the Growth of Cancer. Other factors may play into the link between cancer and dairy consumption including industrial pollutants (Industrial Carcinogens in Animal Fat) and IGF-1 (How Plant-Based to Lower IGF-1?), but for more on the hormones in dairy see:

What about all the studies suggesting milk "does a body good"? See my video Food Industry "Funding Effect".

-Michael Greger, M.D

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Flickr

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4 Things To Help Prevent Most Disease

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Though I was trained as a general practitioner, my chosen specialty is lifestyle medicine. Most of the reasons we go see our doctors are for diseases that could have been prevented. But lifestyle medicine is not just about preventing chronic disease--it's also about treating it. And not just treating the disease, but treating the causes of disease.

If people just did four simple things--not smoking, exercising a half hour a day, eating a diet that emphasizes whole plant foods, and not becoming obese--they may prevent most cases of diabetes and heart attacks, half of strokes, and a third of cancers. Even modest changes may be more effective in reducing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality than almost any other medical intervention.

The key difference between conventional medicine and lifestyle medicine is instead of just treating risk factors, we treat the underlying causes of disease, as Drs. Hyman, Ornish, and Roizen describe in their landmark editorial Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Doctors typically treat "risk factors" for disease by giving a lifetime's worth of medications to lower high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol. But think about it: high blood pressure is just a symptom of diseased and dysfunctional arteries. We can artificially lower blood pressure with drugs, but that's not treating the underlying cause. To treat the underlying cause, we need things like diet and exercise, the "penicillin" of lifestyle medicine (See Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease).

As Dr. Dean Ornish is fond of saying, disregarding the underlying causes and treating only risk factors is somewhat like mopping up the floor around an over-flowing sink instead of just turning off the faucet, which is why medications usually have to be taken for a lifetime. As Dr. Denis Burkitt described, "if a floor is flooded as a result of a dripping tap, it is of little use to mop up the floor unless the tap is turned off. The water from the tap represents the cost of disease, and the flooded floor represents the diseases filling our hospital beds. Medical students learn far more about methods of floor mopping than about turning off taps, and doctors who are specialists in mops and brushes can earn infinitely more money than those dedicated to shutting off taps." And the drug companies are more than happy to sell rolls of paper towels so patients can buy a new roll every day for the rest of their lives. Paraphrasing poet, Ogden Nash, modern medicine is making great progress, but is headed in the wrong direction.

When the underlying lifestyle causes are addressed, patients often are able to stop taking medication or avoid surgery. We spend billions cracking patients' chests open, but only rarely does it actually prolong anyone's life. Instead of surgery, why not instead wipe out at least 90% of heart disease through prevention? Heart disease accounts for more premature deaths than any other illness and is almost completely preventable simply by changing diet and lifestyle, and the same dietary changes required can prevent or reverse many other chronic diseases as well.

So why don't more doctors do it?

One reason is doctors don't get paid to do it. No one profits from lifestyle medicine, so it is not part of medical education or practice. Presently, physicians lack training and financial incentives, so they continue to do what they know how to do: prescribe medication and perform surgery.

After Dean Ornish proved you could open up arteries and reverse our number one cause of death, heart disease, with just a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle changes (see Resuscitating Medicare and Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped), he thought that his studies would have a meaningful effect on the practice of mainstream cardiology. After all, he had found a cure for our #1 killer! But, he admits, he was mistaken. "Physician reimbursement," he realized, "is a much more powerful determinant of medical practice than research."

Reimbursement over research. Salary over science. Wealth over health. Not a very flattering portrayal of the healing profession. But if doctors won't do it without getting paid, let's get them paid.

So Dr. Ornish went to Washington. He argued that if we train and pay for doctors to learn how to help patients address the real causes of disease with lifestyle medicine and not just treat disease risk factors we could save trillions of dollars. And that's considering only heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer. The Take Back Your Health Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate to induce doctors to learn and practice lifestyle medicine, not only because it works better, but because they will be paid to do it. Sadly, the bill died, just like millions of Americans will continue to do with reversible chronic diseases.

By treating the root causes of diseases with plants not pills, we can also avoid the adverse side effects of prescription drugs that kill more than 100,000 Americans every year, effectively making doctors a leading cause of death in the United States. See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic and my live presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations More Than an Apple a Day and From Table to Able.

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Why the Egg-Cancer Link?

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Two million men in the U.S. are living with prostate cancer -- but that's better than dying from prostate cancer. Catch it when it's localized and the five-year survival is practically guaranteed, but once it really starts spreading, chances drop to one in three. "Thus, identification of modifiable factors that affect the progression of prostate cancer is something that deserves study," noted Dr. Erin Richard and colleagues at Harvard. So, they took more than a thousand men with early stage prostate cancer and followed them for a couple years to see if there was anything in their diet associated with a resurgence of the cancer, such as spreading to the bone.

Compared to men who hardly ate any eggs, men who ate even less than a single egg a day had a significant 2-fold increased risk of prostate cancer progression. The only thing worse was poultry consumption, with up to four times the risk of progression among high-risk men. They think it might be the cooked meat carcinogens that for some reason build up more in chicken and turkey muscle than in other meats. For more on these so-called heterocyclic amines, see my videos: Heterocyclic Amines in Eggs, Cheese, and Creatine?, Estrogenic Cooked Meat Carcinogens, and PhIP: The Three Strikes Breast Carcinogen.

But what about the eggs? Why would less than once-a-day egg consumption double the risk of cancer progression? "A plausible mechanism that may explain the association between eggs and prostate cancer progression is high dietary choline," the researchers suggested. Egg consumption is a determinant of how much choline you have in your blood, and higher blood choline has been associated with a greater risk of getting prostate cancer in the first place. So the choline in eggs may both increase one's risk of getting it and having it spread.

Studies have associated choline consumption not just with getting cancer and spreading cancer, but also with significantly increased risk of dying from it. Those who ate the most had a 70% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer. Another recent study found that men who consumed two and a half or more eggs per week -- that's just like one egg every three days -- had an 81 percent increased risk of lethal prostate cancer.

Maybe that's why meat, milk, and eggs have all been associated with advanced prostate cancer--because of the choline. Choline is so concentrated in cancer cells that doctors can follow choline uptake to track the spread of cancer throughout the body. But why may dietary choline increase the risk of lethal prostate cancer? Dietary choline is converted in the gut to trimethylamine (see my video Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection), so the Harvard researchers speculated that the TMAO from the high dietary choline intake may increase inflammation, which may promote progression of prostate cancer to a lethal disease.

In one of my videos, Eggs and Choline: Something Fishy, I talked about what trimethylamine might do to one's body odor.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, the same Cleveland Clinic research team that did the famous study on carnitine repeated the study, but instead of feeding people a steak, they fed people some hard-boiled eggs. Just as they suspected, a similar spike in that toxic TMAO. So it's not just red meat. And the link between TMAO levels in the blood and strokes, heart attacks, and death was seen even in low-risk groups like those with low-risk cholesterol levels. Thus, because of the choline, eating eggs may increase our risk regardless of what our cholesterol is.

It's ironic that the choline content of eggs is something the egg industry actually boasts about. And the industry is aware of the cancer data. Through the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get my hands on an email (which you can view in my video, Eggs, Choline, and Cancer) from the executive director of the industry's Egg Nutrition Center to an American Egg Board executive talking about how choline may be a culprit in promoting cancer progression. "Certainly worth keeping in mind," he said, "as we continue to promote choline as another good reason to consume eggs."

With regard to the prevention of prostate cancer progression, chicken and eggs may be the worst foods to eat, but what might be the best? See my video Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio.

To prevent prostate cancer in the first place, see videos such as:

What about reversing cancer progression? See Dr. Ornish's work Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, followed up by the Pritikin Foundation: Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay. Flax may help as well (Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Christopher Craig / Flickr

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Cancer and the Animal-to-Plant Protein Ratio

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It is now eight years since the famous Ornish study was published, suggesting that 12 months on a strictly plant-based diet could reverse the progression of prostate cancer. For those unfamiliar with that landmark Ornish study, see Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, which the Pritikin Foundation followed up on with Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay.

Wait a second. How were they able to get a group of older men to go vegan for a year? They home delivered prepared meals to their doors, I guess figuring men are so lazy they'll just eat whatever is put in front of them.

But what about out in the real world? Realizing that we can't even get most men with cancer to eat a measly five servings of fruits and veggies, in a study profiled in my video, Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio, researchers settled on just trying to change their A to V ratio--the ratio of animal to vegetable proteins--and indeed were successful in cutting this ratio by at least half, from about two to one animal to plant, to kind of half vegan, one to one.

How'd the men do? Their cancer appeared to slow down. The average PSA doubling time (an estimate of how fast the tumor may be doubling in size) in the "half vegan" group slowed from 21 months to 58 months. So the cancer kept growing, but with a part-time plant-based diet they were able to slow down the tumor's expansion. What Ornish got, though, was an apparent reversal in cancer growth--the PSA didn't just rise slower, it trended down, which could be an indication of tumor shrinkage. So the ideal A to V ratio may be closer to zero.

If there's just no way grandpa's going vegan, and we just have half-measures, which might be the worst A and the best V? Eggs and poultry may be the worst, respectively doubling and potentially quadrupling the risk of cancer progression in a study out of Harvard. Twice the risk eating less than a single egg a day and up to quadruple the risk eating less than a single daily serving of chicken or turkey.

And if we could only add one thing to our diet, what would it be? Cruciferous vegetables. Less than a single serving a day of either broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale may cut the risk of cancer progression (defined as the cancer coming back, spreading to the bone, or death) by more than half.

The animal to plant ratio might be useful for cancer prevention as well. For example, in the largest study ever performed on diet and bladder cancer, just a 3% increase in the consumption of animal protein was associated with a 15% higher risk of bladder cancer, whereas a 2% increase in plant protein intake was associated with a 23% lower risk. Even little changes in our diets can have significant effects.

What else might help men with prostate cancer? See Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Saturated Fat & Cancer Progression. What about preventing it in the first place? See:

Poultry and eggs may be related to cancer risk in a variety of ways:

Crucifers may also help with other cancers. See:

Breast cancer is highlighted in my video Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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A Low Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells

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When designing an antibiotic, we can't create a drug that destroys DNA because that's something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, but it might kill us, too. Instead, many antibiotics work by attacking bacterial cell walls, which is something bacteria have that we don't.

Similarly, antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But fighting cancer is harder because cancer cells are our own cells. So fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what's called "absolute methionine dependency," meaning that if we try to grow cells in a Petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine, normal cells thrive, but without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells grow no matter what, with or without methionine, but cancer cells need that added methionine to grow.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors use it to generate gaseous sulfur-containing compounds that, interestingly, can be detected by specially trained diagnostic dogs. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer and--you guessed it--fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their lab to the lab!

It gives a whole new meaning to the term pet scan :)

Methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a Petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have a biochemical defect that makes them dependent on methionine, including some tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and skin. Pharmaceutical companies are fighting to be the first to come out with a drug that decreases methionine levels. But since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake, eliminating high methionine foods to control cancer growth as well as improve our lifespan (see Methionine Restriction as a Life-Extension Strategy).

Here's the thinking: smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in plants, and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers. Unfortunately, people don't do them, and as a result hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer each year. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer. Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers, such as breast, prostate, colon, and lung, are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer, and dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.

So, where is methionine found? In my video, Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction, you can see a graph of foods with their respective methionine levels. Chicken and fish have the highest levels. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less, but if we really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans are the best. In other words, "In humans, methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet."

There are also compounds in animal products that may actually stimulate tumor growth. See, for example, How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies. Animal protein may also boost levels of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1 (The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle). Combined, this could all help explain why plants and plant-based diets have been found effective in potentially reversing some cancer processes. See Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer, and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

So why isn't every oncologist prescribing a low-methionine diet? One researcher notes that "Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer." That's an understatement! "Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an 'old idea,' since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic....With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer."

Why might the medical profession be so resistant to therapies proven to be effective? The Tomato Effect may be partially to blame.

In my video, Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, researchers come to the same plant-based conclusion from a different perspective, starving cancers of their blood supply.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory / Flickr

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Why Are Eggs Linked to Cancer Progression?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Are Eggs Linked to Cancer Progression?

About two million men in the U.S. are living with prostate cancer, but that’s better than dying from prostate cancer. Catch it when it’s localized and our 5-year survival is practically guaranteed, but once it really starts spreading our chances drop to 1 in 3. So Harvard researchers took more than a thousand men with early stage prostate cancer and followed them for a couple years to see if there was anything in their diet associated with a resurgence of the cancer, such as spread to the bone.

Compared to men who hardly ate any eggs, men who ate even less than a single egg a day had a significant 2-fold increased risk of prostate cancer progression. The only thing worse was poultry (with skin) consumption, which showed up to 4 times the risk of progression among high-risk men. Researchers believe the higher risk might be caused by the cooked meat carcinogens (heterocyclic amines) that build up more in chicken and turkey muscle than in other meats.

But what about the eggs? Why would less than once a day egg consumption double the risk of cancer progression? The Harvard paper suggests that the choline in eggs may increase inflammation.

As I explained in my video Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection, eggs are the most concentrated common source of choline in the American diet, which may increase the risk of cancer emergence, spread, and lethality. Another Harvard study, entitled Choline Intake and the Risk of Lethal Prostate Cancer, found that those with the highest choline intake had a 70% increased risk of fatal prostate cancer. Another recent study found that men who consumed 2 and a half or more eggs per week—that’s just like one egg every three days—had an 81% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer.

In the New England Journal of Medicine the same Cleveland Clinic research team that performed the famous study on carnitine (see my last post Avoid Carnitine and Lethicin Supplements), tried feeding people hard-boiled eggs instead of steak. As they suspected, the egg-eaters experienced a spike of the same TMAO compound associated with red meat consumption (and strokes, heart attack, and death).

It’s ironic that the choline content of eggs is something the egg industry actually boasts about. And they are aware of the cancer connection. Through the Freedom of Information Act I was able to get my hands on an email (displayed in my 9-min video Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection) from the executive director of the industry’s Egg Nutrition Center to an American Egg Board executive talking about how choline may be a culprit in promoting cancer progression: “Certainly worth keeping in mind as we continue to promote choline as another good reason to consume eggs.”

For another behind-the-curtain peek at the egg industry, see Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis and Egg Industry Blind Spot.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Christopher Craig / Flickr

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Flaxseeds for Prostate Cancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is there such a huge disparity in prostate cancer rates around the world? The incidence of malignant prostate cancer is highest in African Americans, some 30 times greater than in Japanese men, and 120 times greater than in Chinese men. The conventional thinking is that this may be due to the higher intake of animal fat and protein in the Western diet, but it could also be the protective phytoestrogens found in plant foods. There are two major types of phytoestrogens: soy isoflavones and lignans.

Researchers have found higher levels of lignans in the prostate fluids of men in countries with relatively low rates of prostate cancer and in vitro studies show lignans can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in a petri dish, so a pilot study was performed on flaxseed supplementation in men with prostate cancer. Why flaxseeds? Because while lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom, flax has up to 800 times more than any other food.

The research team took a bunch of men with prostate cancer, about a month before they were scheduled for surgery to get their prostates removed, and put them on a relatively low fat diet with three tablespoons a day of ground flax. Though the scientists were skeptical that they would observe any differences in tumor biology in the diet-treated patients in such a short time span, they found significantly lower cancer proliferation rates and significantly higher rates of cancer cell death. That was compared to so-called “historical controls,” meaning compared to the kind of growth one typically sees in their situation, not to an actual randomized control group. A few years later, though, a controlled study was published.

Researchers enrolled men who recently had their prostates biopsied and were scheduled to have repeat biopsies in six months. Then they did the same thing as the previous study: they reduced the fat in their diet and put them on ground flaxseeds to see if it made their repeat biopsy look any different. These were men with what’s called PIN (prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia), which is like the prostate equivalent of ductal carcinoma in situ in the breast. That’s why they were getting repeat biopsies–to make sure it wasn’t spreading.

There hadn’t been much research on this kind of prostatic hyperplasia, with only four epidemiologic studies reported at the time. They yielded varying findings, with increased risk associated with higher energy, protein, and animal product intake, and decreased risk related to the consumption of alcohol, fruit, and green and yellow vegetables—in sum, a low-fat, plant-based diet, high in phytoestrogens. The researchers wanted to know if that kind of diet could be used to treat it too.

Watch my 4-min video Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer to see what they found. Study subjects experienced a significant drop in PSA levels (a biomarker of prostate cell growth), a drop in cholesterol (what one would expect with a lower fat diet with extra fiber), and most importantly, a significant decrease in the cellular proliferation rate. In fact in two of the men, their PSA levels dropped so much they didn’t even have to go through with the second biopsy!

Slowing the Growth of Cancer is good, but how about Cancer Reversal Through Diet? In other words, if one plant could do that, what about a whole diet full of plants? See my video series that goes from Ex Vivo Cancer Proliferation Bioassay (actually Engineering a Cure) to The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.

For benign prostate gland enlargement see Prostate vs. Plants, and Prostate vs. a Plant-Based Diet (with background in Some Prostates Are Larger than Others).

What about for breast cancer? See Breast Cancer Survival and Lignan Intake. More on these wonderful seeds in Flax and Fecal Flora, my smoothies (A Better Breakfast), and the oldie but goodie Just the Flax, Ma’am. What about chia? Find out which is better in Flaxseeds vs. Chia Seeds.

Since the dietary intervention involved both reducing fat intake and flaxseed consumption, how do we know the flax had anything to do with it? Given the composite nature of the intervention—both a lower fat diet and flaxseeds, it was unknown whether the effects could be attributed to flaxseed supplementation, a fat-restricted diet, or both factors working together.  To figure that out you’d have to do a study where you split men into four groups, a control group, a flaxseed only group, a lower-fat only group, and then a flaxseed and lower fat group. And that’s exactly what they did. Find out the results in my follow-up video Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?.

That reminds me of the experiment described in Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both? in which researchers try to tease out the individual effects of a similar composite treatment—a plant-based diet and walking—on the growth of prostate cancer cells in vitro. They both appeared to help, but diet appeared to be more powerfully protective.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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